It was an exciting time. The 1960 presidential election was underway; Phil Graham, our charismatic publisher, was on a roll. He was friends with the Kennedys. He purchased Newsweek magazine. He had transformed the Post. Mrs. Kennedy was about to have a baby -- which doesn't seem like much unless you are a 21-year-old copy boy who is working the night shift, gets word that Mrs. Kennedy is on her way to the hospital and you alone must decide whether to push the button in the managing editor's office that completely shuts down the printing of the next edition.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen JFK won, all over America, young people like me who believed that government was both an important and noble calling bought bus tickets. Throughout my graduate school years, I worked for the U.S. Navy's Special Projects Office, which was charged with developing the Navy's fleet ballistic missile system. "SP" to this day is the stuff of study. It remains the textbook case of how bureaucracies can get it right. Given the assignment to develop, in eight years, a weapons system that pushed the technological envelope in every way possible, SP did it in five -- and the system worked perfectly. It was called Polaris. Which became Poseidon. Which became Trident.
At the time, I knew I was involved in something far more important than I had ever known possible. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, all of us in this elite organization knew that if things went wrong, our SSBNs would fire -- right after the Soviets fired. It was a tense two weeks. Our system was the ultimate second-strike capability.
Like all my colleagues, I worked upwards of 60 hours a week. Many a time, I worked around the clock. What I remember about these years was the dedication. I worked with young people who were very bright and ever so committed -- young people who believed that government service was a calling, not a job.
Almost all of my co-workers were drawn to government service by John F. Kennedy; they had come from Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, California, from all over because they (we, I should say) took to heart Kennedy's inaugural address, especially the part where he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Then came Dallas and "Camelot" ended. This tragedy was followed by Vietnam and then Watergate and ... and then we all became cynics. A few years later, most of us decided that making the big bucks was more important anyway.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hich brings me to the Enron convictions. Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. Creeps both. Real bastards. But were they? Actually they were the logical consequence of a dramatic change in civic ethos. From Kennedy's "Ask not ..." challenge, by the late-1990s America had moved to the "greed is good" morality. I have no doubt that both Lay and Skilling are mystified. They were just doin' bidness. Deals, deals, deals. Let the market decide. Some make out, and some lose their pensions. That's just the way it is. But so what?
The "so what" of it is that a Houston jury convicted them of lying, cheating, stealing and any number of other crimes. Sins, actually. And who convinced the jury to do the right thing? Career federal prosecutors, that's who.
Meet the Enron Task Force: These overworked government attorneys (one saw his wife and kids twice in six months) make a tenth of what the defense attorneys' took home annually, and they kicked ass.
In the end, it was three who arrived with the torch and climbed the stairs.
Kathy Ruemmler, 34, who is listed as having been raised in Richland, Wash., went to law school at Georgetown and was identified as a "comer" early on. She came into the Clinton White House to deal with the Linda Tripp episode. Ms. Ruemmler delivered the closing argument that sealed the deal.
Sean M. Berkowitz, 38, a federal prosecutor who worked out of Chicago, matriculated at Tulane Law School. He directed the task force and came to the Enron job known as a person who doesn't miss anything at all.
John. C. Hueston, 41, is a federal prosecutor who works out of Orange County, Calif., and is reported to have never lost a case. He did his law school work at Yale.
Young people. Dedicated. Ambitious. Not used to losing. And completely underwhelmed by the uber impressive legal defense team that confronted them -- a team that cost defendants Lay and Skilling an estimated $70 million.
Government service, at its best, is a noble calling. The Enron Task Force reminded us that making the big bucks doesn't equate with making the best argument. And it means that asking what you can do for your country instead of asking how you can make the most money sometimes puts the bad guys in jail.
To be reminded of this from time to time puts a smile on my face, and that's just what Ruemmler, Berkowitz and Hueston did for me.